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Climate Change and the Health of NationsFamines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations$
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Anthony McMichael

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190262952

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190262952.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 02 August 2021

Eurasian Bronze Age Unsettled Climatic Times

Eurasian Bronze Age Unsettled Climatic Times

6 (p.126) Eurasian Bronze Age Unsettled Climatic Times
Climate Change and the Health of Nations

Anthony McMichael

Oxford University Press

The Story Now Moves beyond the mid-Holocene. By around 4000 B.C.E., viable agrarian settlements had appeared in many parts of the world. Not only could larger populations be supported, but surplus food produced by toiling farmers enabled the differentiation of labour and social status. Settlements expanded, made trading connections, and formed larger collective polities. Hierarchical authority and power began to replace horizontal flows of local information and decision-making. The vagaries of climate, however, lurked on the horizon. Agrarian societies, with their increasing dependence on harvest staples, were painting themselves into a corner. Also, as populations grew and settlements coalesced, mutant strains of animal-hosted microbes that made a successful crossing from livestock or urban pests to humans took advantage of larger, intermingling host populations. A few of these adventurers, such as the measles virus, not only initiated new epidemics but continued circulating, between outbreaks, as endemic “crowd diseases.” Measles, a microbial success story, is still with us today. The advent of property, food stores, and occupied land in nearby populations stimulated both war and conquest, each having diverse, debilitating, and often bloody consequences for health and survival. Climatic conditions in Sumer, sitting at the meteorological crossroads of the Middle East, began changing about 3600 B.C.E., one-third of the way into the fourth millennium B.C.E. . There was a general cooling and drying in the northern hemisphere as the first phase of the Holocene Climatic Optimum waned and as the Icelandic Low and Siberian (Asiatic) High circulations intensified, funnelling colder air southwards. Rainfall declined in southern Mesopotamia, compounded by a southerly drift of the rain-bearing Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone and the regional monsoon. Further west, the Sahara was changing from green to brown, and Egyptian agriculture was faltering. As rainfall declined and arrived later in the year, farming became more difficult; farmers now needed to make a year-round effort, with double-cropping and shorter fallow periods. By extending their irrigation systems, the Sumerians compounded another problem: several centuries of overirrigation and deforestation had already begun to turn the soil saline.

Keywords:   Akkadian civilization, Babylonian Empire, Dark Age, Eurasian Bronze Age, Hammurabi, Late Bronze Age collapse, Philistines, pottery, Sea Peoples, crowd diseases

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